It feels like heist thrillers are a dime a dozen these days especially thanks to recent mediocre offerings like Triple 9 or Den of Thieves. With that said the odd – if flawed – gem occasionally glitters like Hurricane Heist or the newest big budget Netflix offering Triple Frontier. It might not do anything new with a well established formula but it doesn’t have to and the cast do a good job with characters that mostly feel like sketches.
Five military veterans – Redfly (Ben Affleck), Pope (Oscar Isaac), Ironhead (Charlie Hunnam), Catfish (Pedro Pascal) and Ben (Garrett Hedlund) – are down on their luck and nursing old war wounds when Pope finds a lead on Lorea, a cartel leader in Mexico. Lorea doesn’t trust banks and so stores all of his money in the walls of his house. The five friends descend on the jungle compound to rob and kill Lorea. However, when they find a whole lot more money than originally thought, getting out of the country becomes far more complicated.
Triple Frontier never claims to be more than it is and that’s a good thing. It has no pretensions or high hopes for what it’s trying to do. The script is full of military jargon but it reigns in the machismo that dragged down the likes of Triple 9 and Den of Thieves. The only true character is Redfly which is more thanks to Affleck’s lived-in sadness than it is to good writing. Pascal and Isaac have little to do and Hunnam’s flat, monotone American accent does him no favours. Hedlund is adept at injecting some pathos into the cruelly named Ben, especially in a late scene that has him trudge up a slope singing a marching song. But why does everyone else get nicknames? Why just Ben? It’s an odd choice.
The film was mostly shot on location which adds an extra level of grit to proceedings. Roman Vasyanov’s camera takes in lush forests and the jagged, stark landscape of the Andes mountain range. J. C. Chandor directs with a sure hand though it’s a far cry from his best work with Oscar Isaac. Triple Frontier lacks the deep characterisation and bubbling unease of A Most Violent Year. Disasterpeace’s score meanwhile is unsettling when it does appear but is mostly drowned out by a variety of overused and on-the-nose songs like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ and ‘Run Through the Jungle’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Triple Frontier never promises more than it gives and aside from one shocking moment about two-thirds of the way in is mostly content with never ratcheting the tension beyond a light sweat. All of these things work in the film’s favour. Triple Frontier won’t win any awards or appear on any top 10 lists but for an early year Netflix release it’s a lot more tightly wound and well-constructed than it ever needed to be.